Penn State receiver Chris Godwin has left little doubt in his ability.
The 6-foot-1, 208-pound sophomore has caught some truly impressive passes from quarterback Christian Hackenberg this season, the most recent of which was a looping spiral that went 30 yards in the air, before Godwin snagged it under heavy coverage from Ohio State defensive back Eli Apple. Godwin then dragged Apple on his back for about 26 yards until Buckeyes coverage was able to assist in taking the wideout down.
It was just one of 30 catches Godwin has made so far this season as the top target of Hackenberg — the junior quarterback has completed 96 passes through seven games this season; Godwin accounts for 31 percent of that total, followed by DaeSean Hamilton’s 19 catches — for a total of 493 receiving yards (an average of about 70 yards per game).
The young wideout’s true talent lies not in his touchdown snags (that’s more Hamilton’s forte, as he leads the receivers with three of eight total receiving scores), but in his ability to aid Hackenberg in the explosive plays that eat up huge chunks of yardage and fluster an opposing defense; those plays that were sorely lacking from Penn State’s attack early this year.
Godwin balances his flashy plays with a truly humble nature, apparent in his demeanor when speaking to media the last several weeks, and in his work ethic as described by his coaching staff. Receivers coach Josh Gattis spoke highly of the receiver on Thursday morning via teleconference.
Question: First, has Chris tried to get you on one of those scooters that he rides around on? (Godwin rides everywhere on a handlebar-less electric scooter.)
Answer: “No, but I love it though, because he rides everywhere on it, not just outside the building, but all throughout the building. He came into my office riding it the other day, and I don’t think he realized how close my desk was to the door so he almost ran into it.”
Q: What are one or two areas in which Chris has been more improved this year as opposed to last?
A: “Last year, he was a very, very good football player. And I told people last year that he graded out as our best receiver. But a lot of people don’t look at the overall picture of football, they’re only looking at your production numbers, so obviously he didn’t have some of the touches and some of the catches that he does this year, but he graded out extremely high. He’s a mature kid, he does everything you want and the way you want it done, and I’m just really happy for him, you know, all of his hard work is paying off. I think people are starting to see the kind of playmaker he is and the player he is. But he still has so much room to grow in a lot of areas, and you’re starting to see him really come into his own as a receiver. And I think what you’re noticing is the trust that (Hackenberg) has in him that makes him the player he is, an elite player in this league at his position.”
Q: You said he “graded out” as the best receiver despite maybe not having the numbers, the receiving yardage, as some of the other receivers. Can you explain the areas the common fan may not pay attention to; what you guys use to grade?
A: “Yeah, we grade everything. Not only your assignment, but it’s very detailed. Not just ‘Did you make the catch?’ but ‘Did you run the right route at the right depth? Did you read the coverage right? Did you get on your blocking assignment? Did you maintain your block? Did you have the right split in your assignment?’ So there’s a lot of things that go into how we grade games. Basically we have a grading system of, ‘2’ is you did everything right, a ‘1’ means you did something right but maybe not everything, and a ‘0’ (means) you didn’t accomplish your job. All throughout the year last year, Chris was our highest-graded receiver when we went back and looked at it.”
Q: Chris’ (breakout game last season) was the Pinstripe Bowl, and he’s obviously carried that into the season. Was that by design?
A: “It really just unfolded; it wasn’t by design. Chris had played all throughout the season and he had some big catches all throughout the year in other situations, and a couple other situations last year where he probably could’ve made a couple more. I think it’s the trust that Hack has in Chris, you know, he was going through his progressions last year, and guys are winning their one-on-one battles, and (Chris) steps up in the bowl game and it really helped push his confidence, not only in that game, but really helped push the quarterback’s confidence in him throughout the offseason … (Chris) shows up every day and works hard. As good as he plays in the games, he plays even better in practice. And it’s a direct reflection of his preparation and practice, because he prepares at such a high level that allows him to perform at a high level.”
Q: Can you get into what the mental side of winning contested catches is?
A: “Absolutely. Contested catches are the No. 1 key. You’ve got to win your 50/50 battles ... it’s easy to make the free access catches when someone is not on you, but the focus, the concentration, the ball skills and the belief in yourself, in those contested catches, that’s what’s damaging to defenses. Very rarely in college football will you see a guy (who is) wide open, but to be able to make the catch regardless of it’s a slant, or a hitch or a go-route, to come down with those plays … and I think Chris has shown that throughout the year, (and it) really allows the quarterback to have trust in those guys. That’s when you talk about when people say, ‘Hey, who’s your go-to guy,’ when those quarterbacks, whatever play they throw, this guy is going to come down and make the play. Chris has done an unbelievable job with that, he’s got great ball skills. He understands how to track the football, and he’s really got a ‘go-for-it-all’ mentality. When that ball is in the air, there’s nobody on the field that believes they’re going to make it more than Chris Godwin.”
Q: Could you delve into (Chris’s personality) a bit more? What’s he like?
A: “Chris is awesome. He’s so mature. He’s not a guy that jokes around and laughs a lot, but he does have his own personality … He’s a guy that’s a little bit of a perfectionist. He really cares about how he performs and how he practices; he wants to be perfect in every little thing he does. If you tell him one detail, it doesn’t take you twice to tell him. He’ll go out there, and whatever you coach him up on, he’s going to go out there and do it the next play, do it exactly the way you want it. I love him as a kid, love him as a player, as a person, but Chris is a very mature guy … got his own personality, you know, ridin’ around on his (scooter), which is, uh, interesting, but that’s who he is, and he owns it. He doesn’t shy away from what people think about him, just as he doesn’t shy away from the player. He is who he is.”